Don't make an N95 fashion statement

Altering respirators voids NIOSH approval

Beware of the beautiful respirator. Efforts to make a fashion statement with an N95 respirator degrade the protective qualities and negate its approval by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, says Roland Berry Ann, deputy director of NIOSH's National Personal Protective Technology Lab.

Some companies have sold approved respirators that are altered with colorful designs. But the design elements change the performance of the respirator, says Berry Ann. "They are tested and approved with the entire filtering surface available for air to flow through," he says.

Health care workers also need to understand that they can't alter the respirator, whether they're simply adding a colorful sticker, coloring it with markers, or attaching a colorful piece of cloth, he says.

"That cross sectional area, [even if it's small], will make a difference in the breathing resistance," he says.

NIOSH also cautions consumers to make sure they're purchasing NIOSH-approved N95 respirators. For example, one "face mask" sold to the public as an N95 was not NIOSH-approved. NIOSH tested the mask and found it had 80% leakage.

NIOSH provides information about misleading representation or revocation of approval of respirators at www.cdc.gov/niosh/npptl.